Knowledge Brief: Are Minority Youths Treated Differently in Juvenile Probation?

While many studies have examined disproportionate minority contact at the front endof the juvenile justice system, few have examined disparities deep within the system—in particular, differences in how minority youths are treated while on probation. This study examined juvenile probation at three sites with different mixes of white, Hispanic,and black youths. The researchers explored whether judges set different conditions of probation and ordered different services for youths of different racial or ethnic groups,and whether probation officers treated youths differently according to their race or ethnicity. They found varying answers, with no systematic pattern of discrimination.One possible explanation is the constraints, both real and perceived, on the responses of probation officers, who may feel their only option in many situations is detention.The findings also underline the importance of collecting data throughout the system,to try to understand the reasons for the differences across different sites.